An article published earlier this month by Al Jazeera America looks at a new academic study focusing on the costs and benefits of bike lanes and other publicly-funded spending on cycling infrastructure. Living in Portland, a city often cited as one of the most bike-friendly in North America, its findings are not likely to be particularly controversial. Still, they are a useful reminder of how bike riding benefits the community at large and not just cyclists themselves.
The study (see link below) was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, an academic journal sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It comes with the ponderous title “The Societal Costs and Benefits of commuter bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling” but reaches, Al Jazeera reports, a fairly straightforward conclusion: “for every dollar spent on bike-related infrastructure, cities can receive anywhere from $6 to $24 in cost savings in the form of reductions to pollution and traffic congestion, as well as lowered health care costs from decreased traffic fatalities and increased exercise.”
Some of those conclusions may seem obvious to an audience here in bike-friendly Oregon, but they are a reminder that it is important to get the details of infrastructure right. More importantly, in focusing on the big picture – by, for example, citing long-term benefits such as lower health-care costs the study is especially useful.
Both the ODOT and local groups are constantly collecting data in an effort to refine Portland and Oregon’s approach to the increasing number of bikes on our roadways. For example, in 2012 evidence emerged that the green bike boxes at many Portland intersections – which seem like a common-sense move – may set in motion a surprising number of Portland bicycle accidents. Discoveries like that do not mean that spending on bike infrastructure is a bad thing – only that more and better data can help us spend the money in more useful ways. That also echoes one of the study’s main conclusions: that dedicated bike lanes, though more costly to build, often offer greater long-term health and safety benefits. Al Jazeera reports the study’s conclusion that dedicated bike lanes are one of the most cost-effective ways to realize these benefits. “The study found that these lanes could increase bike commuting by 20 percent by 2040. Separated bike lanes alongside car traffic also decrease injuries by 50 percent, the study said.”
As a Portland bike accident lawyer I am glad to see both the state and the federal government taking these matters seriously. We should all be proud of Portland’s embrace of bike culture – but that does not mean we should not stop trying to improve on our existing record of success.
Al Jazeera America: Study: Bike lanes save money and lives
Portland Mercury: City finds bike boxes may actually increase crashes (2012)